Air pollution kills 3.3 million worldwide, may double: study

Study: Air pollution kills 3.3 million worldwide, may double
In this Sept. 10, 2015 file photo, a man covers his nose during a hazy day in Singapore. Air pollution is killing 3.3 million people a year worldwide, according to a new study that includes this surprise: Farming plays a large role in smog and soot deaths in industrial nations. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

Air pollution is killing 3.3 million people a year worldwide, according to a new study that includes this surprise: Farming plays a large role in smog and soot deaths in industrial nations.

Scientists in Germany, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia and Harvard University calculated the most detailed estimates yet of the toll of air pollution, looking at what caused it. The study also projects that if trends don't change, the yearly death total will double to about 6.6 million a year by 2050.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, used health statistics and computer models. About three quarters of the deaths are from strokes and heart attacks, said lead author Jos Lelieveld at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.

The findings are similar to other less detailed pollution death estimates, outside experts said.

"About 6 percent of all global deaths each year occur prematurely due to exposure to ambient air pollution. This number is higher than most experts would have expected, say, 10 years ago," said Jason West, a University of North Carolina environmental sciences professor who wasn't part of the study but praised it.

Air pollution kills more than HIV and malaria combined, Lelieveld said.

With nearly 1.4 million deaths a year, China has the most air pollution fatalities, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000.

The United States, with 54,905 deaths in 2010 from soot and smog, ranks seventh highest for air pollution deaths. What's unusual is that the study says that agriculture caused 16,221 of those deaths, second only to 16,929 deaths blamed on power plants.

In the U.S. Northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea, agriculture is the No. 1 cause of the soot and smog deaths, according to the study. Worldwide, agriculture is the No. 2 cause with 664,100 deaths, behind the more than 1 million deaths from in-home heating and cooking done with wood and other biofuels in developing world.

The problem with farms is ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste, Lelieveld said. That ammonia then combines with sulfates from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from car exhaust to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers, he said. In London, for example, the pollution from traffic takes time to be converted into soot, and then it is mixed with ammonia and transported downwind to the next city, he said.

"We were very surprised, but in the end it makes sense," Lelieveld said. He said the scientists had assumed that traffic and power plants would be the biggest cause of deadly soot and smog.

Agricultural emissions are becoming increasingly important but are not regulated, said Allen Robinson, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who wasn't part of the study but praised it.

Ammonia air pollution from farms can be reduced "at relatively low costs," Robinson said. "Maybe this will help bring more attention to the issue."

In the central United States, the main cause of soot and smog premature deaths is power plants; in much of the West, it's traffic emissions.

Jason West and other outside scientists did dispute the study's projections that deaths would double by 2050. That's based on no change in air pollution. West and others said it's likely that some places, such as China, will dramatically cut their air pollution by 2050.

And Lelieveld said that if the world reduces a different air pollutant—carbon dioxide, the main gas causing global warming—soot and smog levels will be reduced as well, in a "win-win situation in both directions."


Explore further

Air pollution killing 4,000 in China a day, US study finds

More information: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature15371
Journal information: Nature

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Citation: Air pollution kills 3.3 million worldwide, may double: study (2015, September 16) retrieved 16 September 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2015-09-air-pollution-million-worldwide.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
1244 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 16, 2015
Nutrient management programs can end that, using anaerobic digestion of farm wastes, and strict accounting for nitrogen and phosphorus.

Doing so not only makes sense health-wise, but pays off in the generation of power from the wastes, and the re-cycling of nutrients.

rgw
Sep 16, 2015
"6.6 Billion deaths a year" will quickly solve the overpopulation problem.

Sep 16, 2015
How about showing what the average age is now for those regions vs their average ages 300 years ago?

Sorry, but I suspect these people are still living longer now with the pollution than without it in the past

Sep 17, 2015
This is another modern science lie, just like CO2.

Sep 20, 2015
I guess there are not many coal apologists on this thread.

Sep 20, 2015
Sorry, but I suspect these people are still living longer now with the pollution than without it in the past

So your argument is: "It's OK for them to live longer due to the beneficial effects of technological advances...but they shouldn't live longer due to even better technology which is available now?"
Where's the logic in that?

Sep 20, 2015
AA, wagons with wooden wheels saved us labor for over a thousand years. Why did we screw it up with automobiles?

And stone tools were used for millennia, . . why did we give them up?

Sep 20, 2015
Here is a fine example of an emergent, technology solution.

http://inhabitat....ng-smog/

Sep 20, 2015
supports government projects


The air cleaner is not a govt project.


Sep 20, 2015
The Clean Air Act did nothing and would do nothing to create such a device.

Solving problems is not in the nature of a Regulatory body.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more